Losing a home, gaining a perspective

By Jhazalyn Prince
Brooklyn, N.Y.

My stomach clenched painfully as I opened the kitchen cabinet. Day by day, the contents continued to dwindle. I grabbed a Cup Noodles for the third time that day. It was the last package.

I was 13 when my parents separated. My brother, my mother and I had to leave our apartment and move to my grandmother’s apartment building. But in 2012, my mother lost her job, and we were evicted when we came up short on our rent. At age 16, I found myself homeless, embarrassed and angry—let down by my family.

My father had previously shown me that a good father could make you laugh, feel protected and provide financial stability, but here he proved unreliable. My grandmother and I had shared a special bond since I was a child. She would twist my thick hair in cute matching hair accessories and bundle me up to take me anywhere she went. I longed for the safety of her apartment, but she had told me she couldn’t take me in.

There were reasons, but they all just seemed like excuses. My heart beat savagely against the inner cage of my chest. My mind boiled with confusion as I considered my new reality.

I began to go through the motions of everyday life. I rarely went outside. When I did, I would pretend to be happy so much that I almost began to believe it.

I believed that “homeless” was a dirty man on the streets radiating with a pungent odor. “Homeless” meant dependent and lazy. “Homeless” was ignorant.

But when I looked around the shelter and experienced this new world, I came to realize the truth was far more complex. There were the veterans, the mentally ill and the people who had just fallen on hard times. People are prejudiced about the homeless result because they don’t know their stories.

Growing up, I have always been passionate about words and stories. I remember coming home from pre-kindergarten one day with a book in my hand. I told my mother, “Mommy, I want to make these. I want to write books.” As a child I was able to lose myself in the magical world of books—a world that was unlike my own.

Growing older, I have discovered journalism, which allows me to share other people’s stories. Because of my own life experiences, I want to tell the world about people like the homeless—people who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice.

Today, I know that my destiny is in my hands. I know that studying hard in school and pursuing higher education will enable me to break the cycle of young pregnancies and delayed milestones in my family that have only led to financial and emotional burdens. I know that being educated will enable me to succeed in ways that my mother never can, despite how hard she works, simply because she made the wrong choices earlier on.

As a lower-class minority female, I accept that I will face certain challenges in life. But I refuse to sulk just because the odds are against me. Instead, I can change my perspective and, in doing so, change my life.

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